UniCourt Influencer Q&A with George Socha of Reveal-Brainspace
George Socha wrote the book on eDiscovery. As an early adopter of computer programming and data in the legal space and a co-founder of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM), George knows how important technology and innovation are in moving the legal ecosystem forward.
It was great talking with George about his journey to eDiscovery, the future of eDiscovery and the legal ecosystem, advice for future lawyers, and more. We hope you enjoy George’s story and insights as much as we did!
UniCourt: Tell us your story. What is your background, and what led you to what you are doing now?
George Socha: From there to here has been a long and winding – and challenging, interesting, and rewarding – road. I took my first programming classes in high school, in the 1970’s, then got a political science degree at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and from there headed to Burkina Faso, West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer building out a poultry project.
On my way back to the States, I stayed a week in Austria with my brother, who was writing a book about the IBM PC. I took one look at the computer he was using and was hooked; I taught myself enough to write a program to fill out my law school applications and built an inventory control system for my father’s business. That January, Apple unveiled the original Macintosh. I bought one the next day, took it with me to law school, and then used it as an associate at my first law firm.
By the early 1990’s, I was a full-time practicing attorney who also was charged with building the firm’s litigation support capabilities and overseeing the firm’s IT operations. When we encountered our first issues with what we now call eDiscovery, I got tapped to deal with that problem.
My efforts at avoiding eDiscovery failed, and instead I leaned into the topic. In 2003, I left a law firm partnership to start a solo eDiscovery practice. I have been full-time eDiscovery ever since.
Today, I am part of the leadership team at Reveal, where I am responsible for increasing market awareness and adoption of Reveal’s platform globally, am tasked with guiding the product roadmap, and consult with Reveal customers on effective deployment of legal technology.
UC: Why is AI the future of eDiscovery and investigations? Where does AI take eDiscovery next?
GS: AI is the future of eDiscovery and investigations because of the power it gives attorneys, investigators, and those supporting them to find key content quickly and reliably in the mountains of data confronting them; pull together and evaluate disparate content to better understand what happened; and develop and test the viability of interpretations of data. More succinctly, AI helps find the needle in the haystack of legal data.
UC: What are some of the biggest changes you see taking place in the eDiscovery space? How are advances in eDiscovery shaping the way companies litigate?
GS: When I started in eDiscovery, there were almost no tools available to help us work with data. There were no established principles or frameworks to guide us. There was not even agreement that content in electronic form constituted valid evidence.
All that has changed. Reveal and others offer astonishingly powerful platforms. The Sedona Principles, the EDRM framework, the twice-revised Federal Rules of Civil Procedure – and many other materials – offer valuable guidance. We now understand that ESI often offers the best available evidence to help us understand and resolve disputes.
UC: You were one of the original co-founders of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM). Tell us about why you co-founded it and its role as an international eDiscovery organization?
GS: In 2003, Tom Gelbmann and I conducted the first annual Socha-Gelbmann Electronic Discovery Survey. As we talked with people from corporations, law firms, and service and software providers, we realized that there was no consensus about eDiscovery. Those who focused on finding and preserving electronic files thought they were engaged in the one true eDiscovery. Those who processed data felt that they, not the preservers, were doing eDiscovery. Those reviewing documents for relevance and privilege said that only what they did counted.
Knowing they could not all be right, Tom Gelbmann and I co-founded EDRM in 2005. We pulled together a group of volunteers and started what we thought would be a one-year undertaking. We had no idea that the framework put together by our group would enjoy the success it did, be adopted around the world, and continue to be viable many years later.
UC: One of the topics we talk about often at UniCourt is the growing legal technology ecosystem and the importance of leveraging the ecosystem as a whole. How can law firms and legal departments take advantage of the legal tech ecosystem in the context of managing eDiscovery and litigation?
GS: We all know that no single tool or platform will meet all legal technology needs. When it comes to managing eDiscovery and litigation, law firms and legal departments can take advantage of the legal tech ecosystem in several ways. It behooves them to look for partners, not just platforms. As they do this, they also should work for platforms and organizations that can work together well. They also want to pick ones that stand a good chance of being around next week, next year, maybe even next decade.
At Reveal, for example, we don’t just sell someone some software and walk away. We work with potential and current customers to understand their needs; enhance our offerings to better those needs; and make sure they have the knowledge and understanding needed to make effective use of the tools. I am confident that at UniCourt, you take a similar approach. We do not stop there, nor, I suspect, do you. Rather, we try our best to make sure that the platform we offer can work well with the other tools they use, the processes they follow, and the organizations they partner with.
UC: What are some of your top pieces of advice for law students and lawyers interested in learning more about eDiscovery? What are some of the exciting things happening in eDiscovery that they should be paying attention to?
GS: One of my most-given pieces of advice over the years has been: roll up your sleeves and start using something to do something. While we learn in different ways, it is hard to overstate the value that comes from actually doing something, actually using something, as opposed to just reading or hearing about it.
Bill Hamilton, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, and I recently taught a compressed course to a group of 2L, 3L, and LLM students on AI and Litigation Strategies. The students not only were asked to read about AI and about litigation strategies, but they also had the chance to use Reveal’s platform throughout the week for a range of exercises. They tapped into AI capabilities to better understand witnesses, used those tools to prepare for meet-and-confer sessions with opposing counsel and getting ready to take or defend depositions, and got a chance to debate how to craft arguments about which capabilities to use under what circumstances. Having the opportunity to actually use the tools greatly enhanced the students’ ability to leave the course with eDiscovery techniques and strategies they will be able to put into practice following graduation.
UC: What are some of your favorite sayings? Do you have any real-world examples of how you’ve seen those sayings come to life?
GS: Three sayings come to mind.
A college teammate of mine was fond of saying “I’d rather be lucky than good” and then, on the heels of that, “the harder I practice, the luckier I get.” As a litigator, consultant, and expert witness, I was always grateful for whatever luck came my way. I also know that, just as practicing three hours a day, five days a week made me a better fencer, relentlessly pushing and producing the eDiscovery technologies available to me over the years has made me more effective in every position I have held since law school graduation.
For nearly a decade I have been taking cross-country skiing lessons, in part to do better at competing in an annual 50-kilometer race. Some instructors have suggested that “practice makes perfect” but one coach offered a version that I like much better: “Practice makes permanent.” That is a reminder, at least to me, not just to do things automatically but to continuously ask why I do something and whether there might be a better way to achieve my objective, or maybe even a better objective.
UC: What are your goals for the rest of the year? What projects are you working on? Are there any events in the legal tech and legal innovation space we should know about?
GS: One of my overarching goals has been to help the legal industry give 15 minutes back. For many years, I worked on a set of fight-for-the-company life lawsuits. At lunch with one of the in-house attorneys, the attorney stressed to me the importance of appreciating where the fees they paid us came from. They did not come from the share price (and he hoped they never would) nor from the pockets of senior executives. They came, he said metaphorically, from the pockets of the factory workers who on Friday afternoon had to stay at work another hour instead of going home, out with friends, or wherever else they might prefer to be. My goal has been and continues to be to help the legal system improve to give that person fifteen minutes back at the end of the week. Helping provide better eDiscovery tools and helping people use them more effectively is one way of getting there.
UC: Where can we learn more about you and your work?
GS: A great starting point to learn more about me and my work is to go to the Reveal website, revealdata.com. For posts I have written, hop over to the eDiscovery Blog section. To get past eDiscovery Leaders Live episodes I have hosted, go to eDiscovery Leaders Live.
You also can find me on LinkedIn, at linkedin.com/in/georgesocha, and connect with me there.
The Future of eDiscovery and AI in Legal
George Socha’s path into eDiscovery as a lawyer, turned law firm IT professional, and eDiscovery thought leader has positioned him as an innovative force in the legal industry, moving law firms and legal departments into the future with eDiscovery and AI. We can’t wait to see what George does next!